Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Constructing the wines of Martin Woods Winery (McMinnville, Oregon)

The high quality of the Martin Woods' wines, as tasted at Swirlery, set me on a mission to elaborate the environment and the processes that yielded these sterling wines. In my first post on the topic, I reported on the pedigree of the vineyards from which the grapes are sourced. In this post I investigate the construction of the wines that we tasted.

Evan Martin, winemaker/owner at Martin Woods

Lineup of the wines we tasted

The tools and techniques employed in constructing the wines are displayed in the table below. It should be noted that, with two exceptions, the wines are all single-vineyard; a key focus of the estate.

Techniques/Practices Employed in the Construction of the Martin Woods’ Wines Tasted at Swirlery

Wine Press Vessel Fermentation Aging  (Mths) Barrel Type Barrel Size (L) Barrel Age (Years) Lees
Willamette Valley Chardonnay 2018 (Yamhill (55%) and Havlin (45%) Whole Cluster Oregon Oak Indigenous yeasts
Oregon Oak 228, 400
Eola-Amity Hills Chardonnay 2017 (Willakia) do. French, OR Oak do.
French, OR Oak do. N/A No stirring
Havlin Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017

1.5 ton open-top fermenters; 20% whole cluster/whole berries  Ind. yeasts; 17 days on skins; pumpovers & punchdowns 22 (12 on lees) French (50%) & OR (50%) oak 228 (< 5% new)

Hyland Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017

1.5 ton open-top fermenters; 20% whole cluster/whole berries Ind. yeasts; 15 days on skins; pumpovers & punchdowns
French (50%) & OR (50%) oak 228, 400

Jesse James Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017

1.5 ton open-top fermenters; 20% whole cluster/whole berries Ind. yeasts; 17 days on skins; pumpovers & punchdowns 18 (12 on lees) French (50%) & OR (50%) oak 10% new 2 - 10 Yes
Havlin Vineyard Gamay Noir 2017

1.5 ton open-top fermenters; 35% whole cluster/whole berries Ind. yeasts; 14 days on skins; pumpovers & punchdowns
French oak
Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Franc 2017 (Seven Hills Vineyard and McClellan Estates

1.5 ton open-top fermenters; 100% destemmed Ind. yeasts; 16 days on skins; pumpovers & punchdowns 18 (11 in barrel and 7 in Flextanks)

3 - 4 Yes

1.5 ton open-top fermenters; 50% whole cluster Ind. yeasts; 16 days on skins; pumpovers & punchdowns 18 (11 in barrel and 7 in Flextanks)

3 - 4 Yes

1 ton closed-top fermenters; 100% carbonic Ind. yeasts; 5 weeks for carbonic; pumpovers & punchdowns 18 (11 in barrel and 7 in Flextanks)

3 - 4 Yes

White Wines
The Martin Woods' Chardonnays are whole-cluster-pressed, barrel-fermented and barrel-aged on the lees. They are unfined and lightly filtered.

Whole-Cluster Pressing
According to Dawson Raspuzzi, whole-cluster pressing is employed in the making of high-end white wines. During this process the entire grape bunch is pressed very gently to release the juice. The resulting product, if the process is done properly, produces a more delicate and less astringent wine due to limited contact with those areas (skins, seeds, stems) with the highest tannin concentration. In addition to its textural contribution, whole cluster pressing increasing the juice/solids ratio as the stems facilitate the complete draining of the press cake.

Alcoholic Fermentation in Oak Barrels
According to Ibern-Gomez, et al*., "Fermentation in oak barrels leads to wines with much more complex sensory properties, largely attributed to the phenols extracted from oak wood."

In a study on barrel-fermentation of white wines (S. Herjavec, et al., The quality of white wines fermented in Croatian Oak, Food Chemistry, 100, 2007), the authors stated thusly:
One of the practices used to intensify the aroma and flavor characteristics of white wines is to ferment the must in oak barrels, and Chardonnay is one of the most suitable varieties for this. Wines produced by fermentation and maturation in oak barrels have different flavor characteristics to those which have undergone barrel maturation only after fermentation in stainless steel. One reason for this is that actively growing yeasts are capable of transforming volatile flavor components, extracted from oak wood, into other volatile metabolites.
This metabolite transformation results in what Zac Brown, Winemaker at Alderlea Vineyards, describes as "better integration of the oak and softer mouthfeel when compared to a white that is finished and then transferred into oak barrel to age."

Oak Aging
Wine is aged in wooden barrels to: (i) enhance its flavor, aroma, and complexity through transfer of substances from the wood to the wine; and (ii) allow gradual oxidation of the wine.

In the first instance, many of the wood's native aromatic compounds, as well as the aromatic compounds created during seasoning and toasting, are absorbed, and integrated, into the wine, thus contributing to wine richness and aromatic complexity. As noted by Dr. Murli Dharmadikari, common descriptors of oak-aged wines are oaky, vanilla, smoky, toasty, spicy, and coconut.

In terms of gradual oxidation, wine loss from barrels amount to approximately 2% per year, resulting from the fact that water and ethanol are smaller molecules and will diffuse into the wood and, ultimately, escape as vapor.  If the air in the cellar is dry, more water is lost and the wine is more concentrated in terms of alcohol.  If the environment is too humid then more alcohol is lost, reducing the ethanol content in the remaining wine.  This loss of liquid opens up a space between the wine surface and the barrel which the winemaker generally "tops up" in order to prevent oxidation and acetic spoilage.  During this "topping-up" process, small amounts of oxygen are dissolved in the wine.  Oxygen is also introduced into the wine during winery operations such as filtering and racking.

The oxygen which is now in the wine reacts with resident phenolic compounds in a manner such that: (i) tannins are softened (polymerization and precipitation as well as tannin-polysaccharide combinations); (ii) complex aromas develop; and (iii) there is improvement in the wine's body and mouthfeel.  It should be noted here that the tannin resident in the wine at this time is the oak tannin absorbed from the barrel (30% from the innermost four millimeters of wood).

In the aforementioned Herjavec, et al., study, the authors found that the sensorial characteristics of barrel-aged wines were modified, due to the wood-derived compounds. These wines manifested roundness in taste with a complex retro nasal aroma." Barrel toast also affected flavor perception: aging in medium-toast barrels yielded a smoky, roasted, and raw oak flavor while light toast resulted in a more fruity aroma.

The oak used in the maturation of alcoholic beverages fall into one of three species: Quercus albaQuercus robur, and Quercus sessilis.  Q. robur and Q. sessilis, and their respective subspecies, are European white oaks while Q. alba is the source of 45% of the white oak lumber produced in the US.  American oak used in barrel production is sourced from Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, and Michigan but there is no apparent regional distinction.  European oak, on the other hand, may have designations which reach all the way to the forest from which the oak originated.  For example, French oak from the department of Alliers may be sourced from a forest named Tronçais.

It should be noted that Martin Woods utilizes Oregon Oak in its elevage, a practice I had not previously encountered. Subsequent research has shown that this oak species (Quercus garryana) has characteristics and chemistry similar to European oak and "if very well seasoned the resulting wine might benefit substantially rather like one of the features  of French oak" ( Martin Woods restricts the use of new oak to 5% or less.

Lees Aging
Murli Dharmadhikan (Yeast Autolysis, defines yeast autolysis as "... self-destruction of the cellular constituents of a cell by its own enzymes" following its death. Figure 1 below shows the component parts of a healthy yeast cell while Figure 2 shows an overview of the process  -- autolysis -- that occurs once that yeast cell has consumed all of the available nutrients and dies. At a high level, autolysis encompasses (i) the degradation of intracellular materials and (ii) degradation of the cell wall.

The detailed autolysis process is shown in Figure 3 below. The yeast extract, product of the degradation of intra-cellular material, is confined to the cell until such time as the cell wall becomes porous enough to allow the material to seep out. It should be noted that degradation and compound creation continues outside the degraded cell walls.

Figure 3. Details of yeast autolysis
The lees-aged wine is enriched by the compounds released during the constituent-degradation process.
Red Wines
There is no pre-fermentation cold soak nor is any sulfur added anywhere in the processing. The red wines are mostly whole-cluster-fermented for 14 -17 days with indigenous yeasts in open-top fermenters after which they are transferred to cooperage for elévage. The exception is the Cabernet Franc which is fermented differentially in both closed and open-top fermenters. The benefits that accrue to the white wines from oak usage in elévage are relevant here also.

Whole Cluster Fermentation
Paul Adams (SevenfiftyDaily) identifies the following benefits from whole-cluster fermentation:
  • Influences the tannin character of the wine (due to stem inclusion)
  • Less intense color but the color that is there is more stable in that it is bound with the tannins
  • Provides air space among the grapes and creates channels for juice to flow and circulate
  • Helps dissipate the heat created by fermentation.
There is no pump over or punch downs for 7 - 10 days thus allowing carbonic maceration.  There is one punchdown per day after this initial period.

Carbonic Maceration
In this method of vinification the grapes are hand-picked in whole bunches and placed serially into the fermentation tank.  The weight of the most recently placed grapes causes the lower bunches to burst and the juice that is released begins to ferment.  The carbon dioxide that is released during this process causes in-berry fermentation and the production of brightly colored, low-tannin wines with a characteristic fruity flavor. 

Over two posts I have described the sources of the grapes and the winemaking process of Martin Woods Winery. Both elements are of the highest order and clearly explain the quality that the final product displays. The practices are in line with the best winemaking are in line with the best in Burgundy and is innovative in its extensive use of Oregon Oak in fermentation and elévage.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A tasting of Martin Woods (McMinnville, Oregon) wines: Fruit sources

Swilery, one of my favorite hometown wine bars, has been working with its distributors to provide focused tastings with artisanal winemakers from around the world. A case in point -- and the subject of this post -- was the early-November tasting of the wines of Martin Woods, a small Oregon-based producer of, primarily, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The winery was represented by Evan Martin who owns the enterprise along with his wife Sarah.

Evan Martin (Owner/Winemaker at Martin Woods), Natasia Lynn
And Frank Zaun (Terroir Selections)
I have not delved into the wines of Oregon at any depth and was very impressed with the offerings at this tasting. We sampled two Chardonnays, three Pinot Noirs, one Gamay, and a Cabernet Franc from the Walla Walla Valley AVA and the results drove me to further explore the source(s) of their quality. This exploration will be rolled out over two posts: this one, dealing with fruit sources, and a subsequent post detailing key aspects of the Martin Woods winemaking process.

Martin Woods' goal, according to Evan, is the production of single-vineyard wines with a sense of place, "textural elegance," "expressive aromas," and with long aging potential. High quality fruit is a key part of any winemaker's success and, if the winery does not grow its own, the winemaker has to be diligent to ensure reliable sources with verifiable track records and vineyard management practices that align with his/her philosophy.

Fruit for the Martin Woods wines are purchased from the Willamette Valley and Walla Walla Valley vineyards identified in the two charts below and are discussed further in the text following.

  • The Willakis Vineyard, sole source of the fruit for the Eola-Amity Hills Chardonnay, is owned by Erath Winery, itself a major producer of Oregon wines. The 298-acre hillside estate has 19 acres devoted to Chardonnay vines and 100 acres devoted to Pinot Noir. Willakia is 100% sustainably farmed and is certified by the LIVE and Salmon Safe programs.
  • Yamhill Valley Vineyards, another Chardonnay source, was originally planted (34 acres) to Pinot Noir in 1983. The area under vines has since expanded to 150 acres and Chardonnay vines.
  • Havlin Vineyard is a source of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. This vineyard was first planted (10 acres) in 2008 with the Pinot Noir clones Pommard, 115, and 777. The vineyard has since expanded to 40 acres.
  • Hyland Vineyards, located in the foothills of the Coast Range, is one of Oregon's oldest and most storied vineyards. First planted in 1971, it sits on 200 acres -- 180 under vine. "For decades its fruit has produced many award-winning wines from benchmark producers under their own labels."
  • Seven Hills Vineyard and McClellan Estate in Walla Walla Valley are the sources for the Cabernet Franc grapes. Seven Hills was first planted in 1984 (one of the first commercial vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley AVA), was expanded to 20 acres in 1989, and further expanded to 200 acres in 1997. Vineyard management practices include vertically trained canopies and controlled cluster spacing. The fruit from this vineyard is currently sold to 25 producers.
One of the shared experiences of the Willamette Valley vineyards shown above is the influence of the Van Duzer Corridor. This pathway through the Coast Range funnels cool marine air into the Willamette Valley from the Pacific Ocean 30 miles to the west. This air moderates temperatures which, in turn, delays fruit ripening and preserves acidity. A specific component of the Van Duzer Corridor, lying between the McMinnville and Eola-Amity Hills AVAs, has been designated as an AVA. The main characteristics of the new AVA is captured in the chart below.

The fruit from these organically farmed vineyards are purchased under long-term contracts. It appears as though the fruit sources for the Martin Woods wines have the appropriate pedigree.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The DOC sparkling wines of Toscana, Italy

As aptly described on, "The achingly beautiful Tuscany region of Italy is a touchstone of art, food, and culture. Made up of stunning countrysides and distinguished cities, Tuscany is the perfect escape for gastronomes, cognoscenti, and fans of the Italian Renaissance." The characteristic Tuscan landscape is a blend of gently rolling hills (66.5% of the region's 22,985 sq. km) leading to steep-peaked mountains (25%) and plains (8.5%).

But Tuscany is also a wine powerhouse, ranking sixth among Italian regions in overall wine production and third in terms of DOP wine production. It is renowned for its red wines with Sangiovese ruling the roost in Chianti, Montalcino and Montepulciano, and Bordeaux varietals prominent in the Maremma region (especially Bolgheri and Suvereto) as well as having some presence in Chianti and Montalcino.

Climate and soil composition in Tuscany is location-dependent. For example, Chianti-based producers operate in a continental climate with galestro and albarese soils while their coastal counterparts operate in temperate climates with stone- and rock-imbued clay soils.

Tuscany's focus on Sangiovese and red wines is reflected in the relative paucity of sparkling wines in the region. As shown in the following chart, a total of six DOCs offer approximately 11 labels to the market.

The Pomino DOC is Metodo-Classico-only. Four of the remaining sparkling DOCs are Charmat while sparkling wines made in the Maremma Toscana DOC could utilize either the Charmat or Metodo Classico processes.

The dominant variety used in these sparkling wines is Trebbiano Toscana; Pomino DOC (Metodo Classico) makes use of the classic Italian version of the Champagne varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero).

Toscana sparkling wines live in the deep, dark shadows of their red, still counterparts. There are no indications that this will change anytime soon.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The DOC sparkling wines of Liguria, Italy

The world of Italian sparkling wine is vast. And I have been capturing it graphically, one region at a time. To date I have mapped Piemonte, Valle d'AostaLombardia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna. In this post I present a picture of Ligurian sparkling wines.

As shown in the map below, Liguria, the third smallest of the Italian regions, hugs the coast of the Gulf of Genoa and the Ligurian Sea in a thin semi-circle that runs from France to Tuscany. Squeezed between the Maritime Alps, the Ligurian Apennines, and the sea, this relatively skinny region is sized at 5422 km2 and is home to a population numbering 1.567 million.

The region is characterized by mountainous hinterlands and a lengthy coastline which is itself separated into the Riviera di Ponente and Riviera di Levante by the capital city of Genoa. The cliffs of the former fall to the sea whiole the latter is noted for its bays and beaches.

Liguria has a relatively warm climate given its northerly location. There is some agricultural activity in the region -- mainly flowers, olive trees, and vineyards -- but the bulk of economic activity is attributable to tourism and shipping through the ports.

The region supports about 6000 ha of vineyards, of which 500 ha is DOC. Vineyards are small and non-contiguous with most of the wine produced by artisans who grow, tend, and harvest the grapes heroically on steep limestone slopes. Annual wine production is approximately 280,000 hL, of which 75% is white. Only Valle d'Aosta produces less wine than does Liguria.

As shown in the chart below, sparkling wine is produced in the Val Polcèvera and Golfo del Tigullio - Portofino DOCs.

In both of these DOCs, Bianchetto Genovese and Vermentino are featured players while a variety called Albarola is additionally given prominence in Val Polcèvera DOC. It should be noted that a 2009 DNA study has concluded that Albarola and Bianchetto Genovese are genetically identical.

As was the case in Valle d'Aosta, neither Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, or Pinot Bianco feature in the production of sparkling wine in Liguria.

Abissi Sparkling Wine
Bisson Winery has been aging its Metodo Classico wines in 60 meters of water off the coast of Portofino since 2005. The wines -- there are three of them: Spumante Classico, Spumante Riserva, and Spumante Rosé -- are fermented traditionally to produce the base wines and are then bottled and lowered into the sea in July so that the second fermentation can be completed in the anaerobic conditions below the surface of the water.

The Spumante Classico and Riserva are blends of Bianchetto Genovese, Vermentino, and a third cultivar called Cimixià. The Rosé is a blend of Granaccia and Ciliegiolo.

The innovative method of aging is the brainchild of Pierluigi Lugano, the enterprise's winemaker. "When the wine bottles are picked up, they are enriched with incrustations (sic), seaweeds (and sometimes shellfishes, too) ... For health and sanitary reasons, bottles are then dried and wrapped under a protective, clear film, which also serves the purpose of preserving the natural ornament made by the sea,"


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The DOC(G) sparkling wines of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region

Emilia-Romagna, the southern base of the regions that are grouped together as Northern Italy, is famous as the birthplace for quality foods such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Aceto Balsamic di Modena, Lasagna, Tortellini, and Tagliatelle. As a center of food and automobile production, and with the third-highest per-capita GDP in Italy, Emilia-Romagna is one of the wealthiest and most developed regions in Europe.

With 136,000 acres under vine, Emilia-Romagna is the second-largest wine-producing region in Italy after Veneto. The largest wine-producing areas in the region are found in the alluvial plains but the wines from the foothills are attracting attention.

Of the 21 official Emilia-Romagna appellations (2 DOCGs, 19 DOCs), 10 (one DOCG and nine DOCs) provide at least one label under which sparkling wine can be produced. In a number of cases -- Colli di Parma DOC and Colli Piacentini DOC, for example -- the availability of varietal-specific labels provides the producer with the potential to offer between four and six separate sparkling wines.

The biggest concentration of sparkling wine production occurs in the area between Reggio Emilio in the northwest and Bologna, with the Lambrusco zone around Modena serving as the beating heart of this geographic range.

In terms of production methods, 10 of the available labels are Charmat-only while two follow the Champenoise method. All of the other labels allow for the use of both methods based on the producer's preference.

There are no sparkling-wine-only DOCGs/DOCs in Emilia-Romagna and it is the only region that I have encountered to date that does not have a vintage-dated sparkling wine on the official books.

While most of the indigenous varieties are utilized in the production of sparkling wine, mainstay varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco are vigorously utilized.

Lambrusco is the sparkling wine for which Emilia-Romagna is best known and I will delve into its application in the region in the following.

"The main Emilia wine is undoubtedly Lambrusco, the fizzy and sometimes sparkling, jovial red wine from grapes grown on high trellised vines in five DOC zones in Modena and Reggio Emilio." The map below shows the Lambrusco production area within Emilia-Romagna.

Lambrusco production area 

Lambrusco first came to prominence as "cheap, cheerful and fizzy plonk served with ice cubes ... cloyingly sweet versions that flooded U.S. shelves in the 1970s and '80s" (O'Keefe). In an article asking readers to take a second look at the wine, Karen O'Keefe sees that "a number of producers now make distinct, slightly sparkling Lambruscos that belong on every wine lover's radar."

As shown in the sparkling wines maps, there are three specific Lambrusco DOCs (Sorbara, Grasparossa di Castelvetro, and Salamino di Santa Croce) and two other DOCs (Modena and Reggiano) which also produce Lambrusco sparkling wines.

Lambrusco di Sorbara is generally lightly colored, fragrant, and in possession of vibrant acidity. The grapes are thin-skinned, with very little pigment, and the bunches have berries of varying sizes. Grapes for this wine excel in the sandy, fertile plains between the Secchia and Panarao rivers. O'Keefe sees this wine as the most-refined of the Lambrusco category.

Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro is made from a "thick-skinned, late-ripening, darkly hued" grape that is definitively more tannic than the Sorbara variety. This variety does well in clay and silt soils.

Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce is the most planted of the Lambrusco grapes and is often blended with other Lambrusco wines to take advantage of its color and and acidity. The soils in the growing area are similar to the soils in the Sorbara region but some grapes are also grown in the clay and rocky soils close to the Reggio Emilia foothills.

Sparkling wine production in the province of Romagna peaked at the beginning of the 20th Century and then declined somewhat. In order to recapture this past glory the Romagna Consorzio has introduced a new trademark of Romagna Spumante DOC that every producer in the region can utilize if specified conditions are followed. The name of the new wine is Novebolle (nine bubbles) with Nove (nine) referring both the the nine hills of Romagna as well as the period (1900s) in which sparkling wine had flourished in the region.

The wine can be white or Rosé and can be made by either the Charmat or Traditional method. The composition of both wines are included in the second of the two sparkling wine maps above.

The first expression this new trademark has been captured in Bolé, a joint venture between two of the region's Coops: Caviro (the largest winery in Italy) and Terre Cevico.


This Bianco is a mix of Trebbiano and Famosa (5%) made using the classic method. Plans call for increasing production from today's 45,000 bottles to 100,000 bottles and the production of a Rosé that adheres to the Consorzio's restrictions.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme